One of the world’s largest commercial real estate trade organizations has challenged its 16,500 members and the industry at large to dramatically improve their energy efficiency.

This morning at its annual conference in Manhattan, Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International unveiled its Market Transformation Energy Plan. The centerpiece of the plan is the so-called “7-Point Challenge” which explicitly lists steps that BOMA members and others can take to reduce their use of natural resources, non-renewable energy sources and waste production.

“The challenge before us is ambitious but achievable,” says BOMA International Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kurt Padavano.

“Current research estimates that energy consumption in commercial buildings accounts for 18% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Responsible building operating and management practices can significantly diminish a building’s carbon footprint,” he says.

Conserving energy is also easier than many landlords and developers think. According to BOMA data, energy represents the single largest controllable operating expense for office buildings, or roughly a third of all variable expenses.

The “7-Point Challenge” consists of the following directives:

1. Continue to work towards a goal to decrease energy consumption by 30% across portfolios by 2012

2. Benchmark energy performance and water usage through EPA’s ENERGY STAR benchmarking tool

3. Educate building owners, managers and operators to ensure that equipment is properly maintained and utilized

4. Perform an energy audit and/or retro-commissioning of buildings and implement low-risk, low-cost strategies to improve energy efficiency with high returns

5. Extend equipment life by improving the operations and maintenance of building systems and ensure equipment is operating as designed

6. Through leadership, positively impact your community by helping to reduce your industry’s role in global warming

7. Position yourself and the industry as leaders and solution providers to owners and tenants seeking environmental and operational excellence

BOMA members own or manage more than 9 billion sq. ft. of commercial properties throughout the world. In recent years, BOMA has stepped up its efforts to raise awareness of environmental issues such as energy conservation. BOMA International chairman elect, Brenna Walvern, says that most commercial real estate owners and operators already understand the “triple bottom line value” in reducing energy consumption.

“These efforts not only have dramatic environmental benefits,” she says, “but they also have tremendous financial benefits.”

The announcement was fittingly made on the 44th floor of the Hearst Tower in midtown Manhattan. This tower is the first occupied green commercial building in New York City to receive a “gold” rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. The Hearst Tower’s many green features include: 90% of the tower’s structural steel contains recycled materials; use of 26% less energy than a similar building constructed to the standard code; and the annual carbon dioxide reduction associated with the lower energy usage is 869 tons, or the rough equivalent of 174 cars being taken off the road.

*The roof collects rainwater, which reduces the amount of water that the building dumps into the city sewer system during a storm by 25%